Too Fatigued to Learn!

The Center for Disease Control has made a recommendation to schools regarding the sleep crisis facing the nation’s teenagers: Start school later.  According to the CDC,“Teens need 8.5–9.25 hours of sleep per day.” By those standards, most teens are severely sleep-deprived. I routinely ask the high school students in my programs how much sleep they get on a school night; the majority admit to six hours. That statistic appears consistent with national studies. According to research at the University of Kentucky as reported in Nurtureshock: New Thinking About Children, “They’re averaging only slightly more than 6.5 hours of sleep a night. Only 5% of high school seniors average eight hours . . . That amounts to an hour less sleep each night than (their parents) received thirty years ago.” 


While that may seem an insignificant difference to adults, that hour is critical for teens, whose pre-frontal cortex (the part engaged in learning) develops until they reach their mid-twenties.  Sufficient sleep is critical to academic performance and emotional well-being.  According to the authors of Nurtureshock, “A few scientists theorize that sleep problems during formative years can cause permanent changes in a child’s brain structure.  . . It’s even possible that many of the hallmark characteristics of being a ‘tweener’ and teen—moodiness, depress, and even binge eating—are actually just symptoms of chronic sleep deprivation.”  A variety of research studies indicate the disquieting consequences resulting from insufficient sleep.  For instance, Dr. Sadeh, of Tel Aviv University asserts, “A loss of one hour of sleep is equivalent to the loss of to a loss of two years of cognitive maturation and development.”


Schools can remedy this rampant crisis by instituting later daily starting times for teens. The results can be startling. One Minneapolis school district changed its starting time from 7:25 to 8:30. That year, the district witnessed a dramatic rise in the average SAT scores—over 200 points! Students also reported less depression and higher motivation.  When the schools in Lexington, Kentucky, instituted a later starting time, car accidents among teenagers decreased by 25% compared with other districts in the state.  Even though anecdotal, the possibility for positive change should be enough evidence that the schedules should favor students.


While early starting times may suit the adults involved in schools, (teachers, aides, administrators, etc.) districts must put the well-being of their students first!

Leave a Reply